Snap presidential elections will be held in Kazakhstan today/Sunday, the culmination of a turbulent year in the Central Asian country. On paper, the elections seem like a mere formality: the re-election of current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is not really up for discussion, since he faces five virtually unknown candidates.
Tokayev, now 69, came to power in 2019 but has long been in the shadow of his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev. He ruled the Central Asian republic with an iron fist for thirty years and continued to wield enormous influence over Kazakhstan even after his resignation. For example, he was the head of the National Security Council for a long time and remained chairman of the ruling party Noer Otan. One of the first things Tokayev did as president was to rename the capital Astana to Nursultan in tribute. At the beginning of this year, however, the cards were reshuffled drastically in Kazakhstan. Unprecedented protests and demonstrations erupted against the government, in part over discontent over rising fuel prices. Riots also broke out in the economic capital of Almaty.
The protest killed 225 people and injured hundreds. President Tokayev attributed the riots to “terrorists” who “trained abroad” and spoke of an “attempted coup”. To control the protests in the former Soviet state, Tokayev even had to appeal to Russia. With annoyance largely directed at his predecessor, Tokayev announced large-scale reforms in the wake of the protests and pledged to build a “new Kazakhstan”. Since then, he has also increasingly tried to distance himself from Nazarbayev, who largely lost his privileges after a referendum and was expelled from the Security Council. The name of the capital Nursultan was also changed again to Astana.
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